David Taylor at the Signal Tower, Arbroath,
where his ancestor lived between 1812 and 1821
The Signal Tower stands on the shore at the mouth of
the harbour. It was completed in 1812 and
consisted of the lightkeepers' houses, signal tower and
sea wall. Besides these there were storehouses and accommodation
for the master and crew of the attending vessel.
The top of the building was formed into a small observatory
and contained a 5-foot achromatic telescope, a flagstaff
and a copper signal-ball measuring 18 inches in diameter.
By means of this, and a corresponding ball at the Lighthouse,
specific signals were kept up daily between Arbroath and
At the Lighthouse the ball was raised daily between
9 and 10 every morning, signifying all is well. Should
the weather be foggy, the watch was set again at 1pm. This
signal would be observed by the off-duty lightkeeper who
immediately answered it by hoisting the ball at Arbroath.
Should the ball remain down at the Rock, in the event of
something required urgently, or in the case of sickness,
then the Tender would put to sea immediately.
Plans for the Signal Tower
Today, when one enquires at the Signal Tower as to the
original purpose of the building, you may be told it was
built to accommodate only the lightkeepers and their families.
However, as can be seen on the above plan, it was also the
living quarters for probably the most important man on the
Establishment, ie the Master of the Tender. It was
he who had the responsibility for the safety of the keepers
when transporting them to and from the lighthouse, and supplying
them with all necessary stores. He was on call 24 hours
a day, and indeed was always ready to set sail at a moment's
notice should an emergency arise. He was their lifeline!
The completed Signal Tower in 1812
housing the Lightkeepers’ and Master of the Tender’s
On completion of the lighthouse in 1811, Mr John Reid
was the first Principal Lightkeeper, and Messrs John
Bonnyman and Henry Leask, his Assistants. They
took up their quarters in the Signal Tower when it completed
two years later. Capt. David Taylor became first
Master of the Tender. He remained there until 1821 when
gout forced him ashore, and in recognition of his services
Stevenson promoted him to the position of Lighthouse Storekeeper
at Leith for the Northern Lighthouse Board.
In the 1950s, the keepers vacated the Signal Tower to take
up new residences near Granton, Edinburgh; and continued
the relieve the Lighthouse from there until automation in
When the keepers left, the Tower became Council houses
and remained so until the 1970s when it became Arbroath's
museum. Amongst its many exbibits is a room dedicated
to the building of the Lighthouse, and downstairs in a specially
converted outhouse one can see the massive lens of the last
manual lamp, and hear the keeper describe a typical shift.
Dusk at Arbroath harbour with the
Signal Tower just visible in the distance
In the summer of 1814, Walter Scott (then aged 43) embarked
on a six-week voyage round Scotland - from Edinburgh
to Glasgow (via the Northern Isles and the Hebrides) in
the company of the Commissioners of the Northern Lights
and their "Surveyor-Viceroy" Robert Stevenson.
On Saturday, 30th July, Scott visited the Bell Rock Lighthouse,
and, impressed with what he saw, signed the visitors' book
and penned his famous "Pharos Locquitor".
After his visit, the party continued on to Arbroath.
"We visited the appointments of the lighthouse establishment
- a handsome tower, with two wings. These contain the lodgings
of the keepers of the light - very handsome indeed. and
very clean. They might be thought too handsome, were it
not of consequence to give those men, intrusted with a duty
so laborious and slavish, a consequence in the eyes of the
public and in their own. The central part of the building
forms a single tower, corresponding with the lighthouse.
As the keepers' families live here, they are apprized each
morning by a signal that all is well. If this signal
be not made, a tender sails for the rock directly."
Whilst in Arbroath, he also took the opportunity of visiting
the Abbey Church for the third time. Scott
must have thought highly of Arbroath for he used it as a
setting for one of his favourite Waverley novels
- see "Arbroath"
Walter Scott and The Antiquary".